Friday, 6 February 2009

Battlestar Galactica, or, simply the best television

The world ended with no warning, and all that was left … was hope. opening description of Battlestar Galactica.

Ok, I can see you, rolling your eyes. "Gah!" you say. "Not that show, not the remake of the science fiction tv show from the 1970's."

Well, actually that was my original reaction when I heard 4 years ago that they were remaking Battlestar Galactica. I had watched the original show - my sister and I had even fought over the two leading actors, Richard Hatch and Dirk Benedict (I got Richard Hatch). But it was cute, and not very serious science fiction, even with Lorne Greene's deep, sonorous voice leading the way into the stars in the flight from the Cylons.

Cue the 21st century. As usual, I think I missed the very first episode, and my then 16 year old son asked me to watch the next episode with him. And since that very first episode that I watched, I have fallen in love with a great tv show. Note that I say 'great tv show', not 'great science fiction show'. I think BSG (as it's really known to those who watch it, much easier to say!) transcends the genre in every way possible. In tonight's episode, for example, "Blood on the Scales", there is a coup and it all looks very normal and fairly bloodless at first. Then, in true BSG style, every coup trope is turned upside down: a soldier breaks down as the episode progresses. What does he do? The President, dying of cancer, decides to fight back even though she has been told the Admiral (her lover) has been killed. I sat there and admired her fighting words, then as the commercial rolled, I thought, uh-oh, has she just doomed the rest of the human race to sure death by staying to fight the coup takers, rather than fleeing with the remnants of those who follow her, and the Cylons? Meanwhile, the small band of rebels take the ship back. And the one who was going to be killed by firing squad, executes instead those who removed him from power, in the last scene. It's not horrible, it's awesome story-telling. 55 minutes of 'don't look away' television. From beginning to end, it's breath-taking, on the edge-of-my-seat watching. Literally. I almost fell off at one point, and when Roslyn (the President) makes her stunning very short speech, I had my hands on my face for a full minute after, trying to think through all the directions the show could move now.

Every scene is fraught with tension - what will the characters do? Even now, 4 years into the show, Starbuck (in this updated version, she's a woman and quite a woman too) stays with her ex as he is critically wounded, even though they are still trying to take the ship back, for the first time revealing how much she still cares for Sam, even though he's a Cylon. And the vice-president in a very chilling scene, shows exactly why he was in prison for all those years.

This is the link to what the show is about, here , from Scifi.Com, a great website about science fiction media.

This is tv that goes where all the really great shows go, right into the heart of what it means to be human,and what it means to be in a state of war, and what trying to find a home does to a civilization. The writers don't blink from asking the hard questions, like in a state of war, should the military make civilians expendable? Who leads? What happens when you meet the enemy, and you can't tell yourself apart from the enemy? What if the enemy split apart and some wanted to make a pact with you? would you? What if you fell in love with the enemy? And all, all of the characters are fully rounded, written with depth and sensitivity, and the acting is so good, that every character is different, and every death means something. Life on board the Galactica and in the fleet feels real,even though it is set in the future, it seems to be happening right before our eyes.

I know i will not convert anyone, and I'm not trying too hard to! I wanted, while Carl's Sci Fi Experience is running, to write about Battlestar Galactica while it was still on the air. This is its last season, and I think it is a pity that more people haven't found their way to it, because it is some of the best writing on tv, and best acting. Oh, and Richard Hatch is back. And not a hero!!! In ironic recasting (and very deliberate on the part of the show, which I like!), he is most definitely dangerous and unpredictable. Still kind of cute, though.

So here are my top 10 reasons to watch Battlestar Galactica while you still can:
Susan's Top 10 Reasons to watch Battlestar Galactica:

1. Adults only. This is for adults. No cute robot dogs, no talking animals (which I do love!), this is a show about life and death in space.

2. Well-written, and gripping. What do you do with a science genius who discovers how to tell Ceylon from human, and then lies about how it works? Because he carries around a secret guilt that slowly eats away at him as he watches the fleet battle the Ceylons to stay alive.

Or when the human survivors discover that the Cylons have discovered a way to make themselves look human? Or the board that marks down the number of survivors left in the fleet, and if there are any deaths in the episode, the number changes in real time? Births too.
Storyline is continuous and refers to the past: actions in the beginning have repercussions later. Decisions have immediate results. And the characters refer to what they were doing before the Cylons came. They talk to each other, listen to one another, respond. The coup tonight is a direct result of Adama refusing to deal with the revelation of who the final 4 Cylons are, all of whom have infiltrated the ship and their lives. If someone is your friend for 25 years, how do you turn your back on that? what if they don't hate you at all?

3. Fabulous love stories. Some are very hot,

Oh, and it's also twisted. Very twisted. They argue, they fight, they hurt each other, they make up, they love each other.
In the midst of war, life goes on, and that mystical, magical ingredient that makes life worth living, love, is present in spades in Galactica.

4. Characters are people you probably grew up with: The range of characters is fantastic. Good characters, bad characters, characters who change sides, characters whose side you aren't sure they are on.....and they grow and change before your eyes.
Here is Starbuck coming to terms with her past:

5. Life in Space. How they adapt to life on the ships is fascinating. And realistic. They need water, fuel, to resupply, time to repair.

6. The theme song is haunting, and the opening montage is a riveting, no matter how many times i see it, I love watching it.

7. Admiral Adama. Tonight's episode made me realize that Edward James Olmos is the soul of the show. As admiral, he is the Battlestar, aged, a relic, and refusing to give up. He is man's best chance to survive. And he finds love in the unlikeliest person, the unlikeliest place, at the unlikeliest time.

8. Forgiveness. Love. Survival. All the human emotions, pitted against a pitiless enemy who reveal surprising capacity to feel, to need, despite being machines. Confused? Try being a Cylon! Or a human on this show! So are they, the characers don't have any answers, they learn as they go, so we learn too what it's all about as we watch it. This is what I consider one of the best characteristics of science fiction, that it reveals us to ourselves. This show presents all that is good and bad in the human soul. It's fascinating storytelling.

9. The ships of BSG.
Wouldn't you like to fly one of these:

I know I do!!! I really want to fly one! and this is who they fight:

Very cool ships, graphics, the fight scenes are realistic. What life in space would be like.

10. Adventure! Fire Fights! Lots of flying! Things move, it's fast-paced, and the hour never ever lasts long enough. Actually, this spot is reserved for all the actors and actresses on the show. If they didn't believe in the work, in the story, it would fail miserably. The actors have brought a high level of craft and commitment to their work here, and I wish it would get noticed by the Emmy committee. Oh, too late. Figures. If this had been on mainstream tv it still wouldn't have gotten a look at, because it's science fiction. So, this is my part to say, hey, science fiction is capable of the best writing; in television, as well as in books. I wish it would be taken as worthy literature/television/storytelling. Isn't it about time a science fiction writer won the Nobel Prize for literature? When the writing is this good, why is it overlooked?

There you have it. 7 shows to go before the series ends. Catch it while you can.


mariel said...

I love the new Battlestar, though I am quite behind as I'm still at the beginning of season 3. Just glanced through your post and saw a spoiler that I didn't know so I stopped reading, but I'm guessing that you love this show!! I'll try and catch up!

Amy said...

I'm not reading your post as I want to watch the show, but I do look forward to getting a chance to watch it at some point! :)

trish said...

I LOVE BSG!!! I'm on season three, and it's such a treat when I can sit down and watch an episode. I love Starbuck, even as flawed as she is. And Adama (the dad)!! Love him, too. This is a show you could probably watch multiple times.

Susan said...

mariel: I didn't give too much away, but you're right. I have no idea where the seasons are for other people! We get it direct on Space Channel (canada) over here, so it views when the American Space Channel shows it. I can't believe there are only seven episodes left! I'm so delighted you love it too!

Amy: I hope you get a chance to watch it, and you can read most of my post since I don't give too much away - most of the post is about what I love in the show, not specific episodes.

trish: Isn't Starbuck interesting? Volatile? Smart? I love her - she's who I'd want to be if I could get away with it! Though Sharon is so beautiful. And Adama gets even better, wait til you see Season 4! You're right, this show needs multiple viewings, so after we get Dr Who, we're getting BSG (my husband sort of knows this, but he's pretending the price will come down in the meantime). It's so thrilling to know you love it too! sometimes I feel like the only one watching it here!

Anonymous said...

It's so nice to know that someone is as in love with this show as I am. I haven't missed a single episode and own the first first 3 seasons on dvd. I can't wait to see what they do with the prequel series Caprica!

Ferdinand Joppe said...

I love it! best show in the world!